Many Canadians may be aware of the life-saving qualities of umbilical cord blood, but most are probably unaware Canadian hospitals frequently need to import it from other countries.
In fact, Canada is the only G8 country without a national cord blood bank that collects the precious commodity and links it with patients suffering from a wide range of diseases, particularly blood cancers such as leukemia.
About 1,000 patients are currently waiting for the stem cells that are found in bone marrow and cord blood, but many of them will die before a proper match can be found, even with worldwide directories.
Canada's needs are unique for several reasons. First, the country is ethnically diverse, which makes it more difficult to find matching DNA types. Second, the aboriginal and Métis populations have rarer DNA profiles, which is why a national bank that emphasizes the collection of stem cells from those groups is imperative.
Hundreds of aboriginals die every year because a proper match cannot be found.
In a meeting with the Free Press editorial board Monday, officials from Canadian Blood Services outlined a convincing case for the development of a cord blood bank. The plans calls for blood-gathering centres in Ottawa, Brampton, Edmonton and Vancouver at a cost of $48 million.
The organization is required to raise $12.5 million in private donations, while the federal and provincial governments will fund the balance. It costs $42,000 to import a single sample, but cord blood harvested in Canada will be provided to hospitals for just $10,000.
Simple economics, in addition to basic humanity, should make the creation of a national bank a priority for all Canadians.